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NASA Curiosity's Old Parachute Flaps in the Wind on Mars [VIDEO]

Apr 03, 2013 09:03 PM EDT
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The supersonic parachute that helped NASA's rover Curiosity land safely on Mars eight months has become the focal point of some recently released images from NASA.

Over the course of six months, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter kept an eye on the parachute which assisted in Curiosity's landing.

When strung together, the seven images show the parachute moving as the wind sweeps over the landscape. Researchers may use this to help them understand wind patterns and how they affect the surface of Mars.

The Red Planet's atmosphere is 100-times thinner than Earth's, but for Curiosity's discarded parachute, the wind is strong enough to cause it to flap around.

The fading of the dark streaks could be explained by the deposition of airborne dust, according to the University of Arizona's Alfred McEwen, who heads the HiRISE science team.

"Sometime between September 8, 2012 and November 30, 2012, there was a major change in which the parachute extension to the southeast (lower right) was moved inward, so the parachute covers a smaller area," McEwen said. "In the same time interval some of the dark ejecta around the backshell brightened, perhaps from deposition of airborne dust."

"This type of motion may kick off dust and keep parachutes on the surface bright, to help explain why the parachute from Viking 1 (landed in 1976) remains detectable," McEwen wrote in Wednesday's image advisory.

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